Second Attack on UAE By Houthis Means More Than Just Yemen Is At Stake – For the second time in a week, U.S.-made missile defense systems shot down Iranian-made ballistic missiles targeted by Yemen’s Houthi rebels against the UAE’s Al Dhafra Air Base in the capital, Abu Dhabi, which hosts the U.S. Air Force’s 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. The bases has a combined number of about 2,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel as well as French air force personnel stationed there.
Captain Bill Urban, the spokesman for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said, “U.S. forces at Al Dhafra Air Base, near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), engaged two inbound missile threats with multiple Patriot interceptors coincident to efforts by the armed forces of the U.A.E.”
“The combined efforts successfully prevented both missiles from impacting the base,” he added. There were no casualties.
While the UAE is involved with the Saudi coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, the latest attacks are ostensibly for the UAE’s sending troops to bolster the Yemeni government’s defense of the oil-rich Marib province. But the Houthi’s attacks on the UAE oil facilities as well as the Saudi’s oil infrastructure also serve as an Iranian proxy in undermining the Abraham Accords with Israel.
Background on Yemen’s Civil War
The Yemen Civil War officially began in 2014, but its origins began a decade before when the Ansar Allah, popularly known as the Houthis, were conducting a low-level insurgency against the government in the mountainous region that bordered Saudi Arabia. The leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, was killed by government forces, and the movement was named after him.
After the Saudis came to the aid of the Yemeni government in 2009, a cease-fire was signed. But things heated up in 2014 when the rebels took the capital of Sanaa. Although Iran has denied using the Houthis as their proxies against Tehran’s hated enemy in Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, Nasser Shabani said to the Fars News Agency, the semi-official news agency of the Iranian government: “We (IRGC) told Yemenis [Houthi rebels] to strike two Saudi oil tankers, and they did it.”
The Houthis receive training and support from the IRGC’s Quds Forces with arms, ammunition, training support, and more recently, ballistic missiles and drones that are all manufactured in Iran.
After seizing Sanaa, the Houthis forced the resignation of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his ministers and dissolved Parliament. Hadi escaped and established the internationally recognized government of Yemen in Aden in March of 2015.
Rumors of Saudi intervention were met by scorn by Houthi leaders, who flush with success threatened to invade Saudi Arabia itself. The next day, the Saudis announced that they had established an 8-member coalition of Arab states (Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain) that were coming to the aid of the Yemeni government.
The Saudi coalition was aided with logistical, intelligence, and air support from the United States. They began a deadly air campaign that bombed Sanaa and has frequently been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilians.
The U.S. was conducting drone strikes against al-Qaeda terrorists and leaders and it is estimated that about 250 al-Qaeda members were killed in drone strikes. The Islamic State (ISIS) is also jockeying for influence in the fighting.
The fighting has raged back and forth with little progress made on either side. In February of last year, the Houthis began an offensive that targeted Marib province. After early success, a counter-offensive by Saudi-led coalition forces forced them back with heavy casualties. In January of this year, Houthis seized a UAE-flagged ship in the Red Sea accusing it of carrying arms and ammunition.
Soon after taking office President Joe Biden, cut off all offensive military aid to the Saudis
Yemen Humanitarian Crisis, “The World’s Worst”
The bloody civil war has claimed the lives of over 377,000 people, but the toll on the civilian population has been devastating. The fighting has only accounted for a portion of the deaths, while disease and starvation are also wracking the population.
The World Food Program has been supplying food to over 13,000 Yemenis and they are running out of money.
There are nearly 5,000,000 Yemenis who are on the brink of famine. It is estimated that nearly half (16.2 million people) of the population of Yemen are food insecure. The fighting has forced more than 4.6 million people to be displaced.
Stakes Raising Higher As Fighting Continues Unabated
The recent missile attacks and subsequent airstrikes by the Saudis underscore how the prospects for peace remain practically non-existent as the Houthis have now brought the Yemen civil war to the UAE.
They had attacked the Saudis many times since the conflict began but this development has escalated the violence. And while the UAE is now in range of Houthi missiles, the aim is two-fold. The Houthis want to exact revenge on the UAE for sending its troops to stem their advance in Marib and Shabwa.
But the Iranian support also serves Tehran’s goal of putting pressure on Israel, which they’ve vowed to erase from the map. Make no mistake, Tehran was watching the normalizing of relations between Israel and Abu Dhabi as well as with Morocco, Bahrain, and Sudan through the Abraham Accords.
The missiles that the Houthis are now firing on the UAE can just as easily be fired at Israeli targets in the Red Sea, all while giving the Iranian government plausible deniability. Tehran’s strategy of divide and rule by promoting sectarian violence while building its own influence has been successful.
Tehran has been transforming much of Syria like they did Lebanon with Hezbollah as a region that has continually had fighting between Israel and those who do Iran’s bidding while suffering the consequences. Looking at Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen the one thing they have all shared is more and more violence that shows no signs of abating, while Iran has been adding its influence.
The Israelis have repositioned some of their missile defense systems to their southern borders to counter the missile threats that are sure to come. They’ve offered assistance to the UAE and maybe looking to gather closer intelligence on the Houthis missile capabilities as well as their launch sites.
In 2021, the Biden administration removed the Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations to allow the free passage of humanitarian supplies to those most in need. But it hasn’t resulted in a lessening of the violence, rather the opposite effect. The Houthis took it as a free pass to increase their attacks. Now, it seems that Washington, may possibly rethinking that designation as the Houthis act like Tehran’s proxies.
While Washington has been trying desperately to get Tehran to negotiate a return of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran nuclear deal, Iran has answered with Houthi missiles.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.